Brebeuf sophomore Caroline Potts has played soccer most of her life, but this year when the standout JV and varsity player decided she wanted to try cheerleading—in the same season—coaches and administrators banded together to create a schedule that allowed her to do both.
Asked about the mental preparedness it takes to play both football and basketball at the highest level of prep sports, senior Simon Banks, touching the Kairos charm on a chain around his neck, acknowledged the life-changing impact of the school-sponsored Kairos retreat he attended last spring.
In every high school in every community, sports—soccer, football, basketball and all the rest—are played by the same rules. But at Brebeuf, that’s where the similarity ends. Make no mistake, athletics at Brebeuf are different.
“We attract student athletes who want a great education, for whom faith is an important part of their life, and who want a place where they can come and have a great athletic experience—an experience we’re deliberate about tying to our school’s mission and values,” says Brebeuf Athletic Director Ted Hampton.
In uniforms bearing the initials ADMG for the Jesuit motto Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (for the greater glory of God), Brebeuf student athletes are encouraged to maximize their God-given talents for the greater good, a key principle referred to in Ignatian Spirituality as Magis, Latin for “more” or “greater.” At Brebeuf, that means supporting multi-sport participation and paving the way for student athletes to take part in other extracurricular activities in a meaningful way and without repercussions.
Hampton says both commitments illustrate how the athletic program contributes to fulfilling the school’s core value of educating the whole person, “fostering the intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional and social development of every student.”
“You can come to Brebeuf and have experiences in one or more sports, in band or orchestra, in performing arts, in the classroom and in the chapel, and we strive as a school to help ensure all those experiences are great ones,” he says.
Athletics is more than a spectator sport for the vast majority of Brebeuf ’s student body. Nearly 95 percent of students play on a school sports team during high school, and this year just over 40 percent of student athletes play more than one sport. The addition of four varsity sports (lacrosse, boys’ volleyball, crew and ultimate frisbee) since 2007 has offered opportunities for an additional 200 students to earn letters on teams financially supported by the athletic department.
BREBEUF’S COMMITMENT TO MULTI-SPORT ATHLETES
While many high school and club coaches tout the benefits of single-sport specialization, mounting evidence supports multi-sport participation, even for student athletes with the talent and aspiration to play at the collegiate level. Reduced risk of overuse injuries from repetitive motion and decreased burnout and stress are most often cited, along with the advantages of developing cross-sport skills that enhance athletic performance in any sport.
As a freshman, Potts hadn’t considered a spring sport until Brian Hamlett, a Brebeuf track coach, approached her about running track after noting her strong middle school times. Potts, an avid recreational runner, talked it over with her parents and eventually laced up her running shoes to participate in varsity track—a move she says has helped in her primary sport.
“I really think because I ran track, I was faster on the soccer field and because I played soccer, I was better in track,” Potts says. “For me, it was a two-way street, and the track coaches knew that I played club soccer in the spring, so we worked it out.”
Banks, a linebacker and wide receiver in the fall and starting guard on the hardwood in winter, has also experienced benefits from participating in two sports. With assistance from Brebeuf Wellness Center Coordinator Joel Clem, Banks changes up his workout routine throughout the year, focusing on multiple muscle groups to help avoid overuse and strain.
“Knock on wood hopefully, but one thing I’ve noticed is the kinds of classic injuries athletes get from both of my sports—I haven’t gotten them,” Banks says. “That’s a big thing, but also being able to change mindsets has allowed me to achieve a balance in intensity, which works to my advantage in both football and basketball.” Being in a smaller school, Clem and the Brebeuf athletics staff have the opportunity to work with student athletes on an individual basis, which contributes not only to improving their physical strength, but also their well-being.
“It’s important to find out what the student athlete’s goal is, and then we can design a program that meets their needs and schedule,” Clem says. “We focus on caring for the whole person, and particularly for multi-sport athletes, that means supporting them year-round.”
While the physiological and performance benefits of multi-sport participation are real, Hampton says there’s more to Brebeuf ’s philosophy.
“Not only is encouraging multi-sport athletes the route to take from a player safety and scientific standpoint, but it’s also advantageous in my opinion for student athletes to have different experiences from a human development standpoint—the mental part of it,” Hampton explains. “Especially as it relates to Brebeuf ’s mission to educate the whole person; it’s central to our mission to ensure our kids are able to have varied experiences.”
Boys varsity lacrosse head coach Tim Clark agrees. Clark, who has coached lacrosse at the college level, was a two-sport athlete in high school, playing on both the football team and a state champion lacrosse team in New York. He also played on four NCAA national champion lacrosse teams at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
“When I got into coaching, I personally knew the benefits of playing in multiple sports—being with different groups of people and learning how to get along with others, but also exploring what your athletic talents and skill sets truly are,” Clark says. “It helps you become a more complete player.”
MAKING IT WORK ON AND OFF THE FIELD
While Brebeuf has fielded more winning teams in the past 10 years than ever before, athletics in a college preparatory school known for academic excellence takes its place among many student-centric priorities—education being number one.
“Our academic rigor changes things a bit, but I think the fact that there are so many student athletes here really normalizes it,” says Banks, who spends time after practice tutoring younger teammates in math.
“I don’t ever feel like I’m on my own.”
For every student athlete to have a multi-faceted high school experience requires intention, commitment—and teamwork. It can be a tough balancing act, but Hampton says support from a school community that values the holistic education of every student is what makes the difference.
“One of the first things we tell prospective coaches is our kids are high achievers, and they want to do everything; and then we basically ask the question, ‘are you willing to work with them to make that work?’ If the answer is no, that’s a non-starter for us,” says Hampton. “Winning state championships should be our goal, but it’s not our purpose as a team or a school.”
Because in a world where only a fraction of student athletes participates in competitive sports after high school, what they are able to learn and experience at Brebeuf, both on and off the playing field, matters.
Just ask Caroline Potts.
“Brebeuf has given me the opportunity to do everything I want. I’ve loved every second of my time here and really wouldn’t change anything.”